Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 30, Denver Broncos 6
After suffering back-to-back losses, the Chiefs responded to criticism in a big way. The defense pressured Joe Flacco on every dropback while standing stout against the run. The Chiefs jumped out to an early lead, which helped the defense really tee off. Meanwhile, after Patrick Mahomes’ injury, the offense was able to do enough to win.
The Chiefs got the ball facing a 6-0 deficit and promptly marched down the field utilizing LeSean McCoy in the running game and a quick passing attack from Mahomes. The drive was capped off with a Mecole Hardman touchdown grab in which he showed great concentration to look in a tipped pass — and then turned on the jets to get to the end zone. The next possession was on a short field — and the Chiefs’ struggling red zone offense showed up again, forcing a field goal after three plays.
But it was the next drive where the biggest storyline from this game occurred.
The Chiefs got the ball on another short field. The quick passing game moved them to the Denver 5-yard line with a fourth-and-1 play. On a quarterback sneak, Patrick Mahomes picked up the first down. But afterwards, he was rolling around on the ground in quite a bit of pain. It appeared that his knee was dislocated and reset by the training staff on the field. Mahomes went to the locker room for X-rays, and shortly afterward, the Chiefs announced he would not return to the game.
Following Mahomes’ injury, the Chiefs offense looked like one you would expect from a backup quarterback without a week of practice. Matt Moore took over, looking like he understood the fundamentals of the offense but was essentially just escorting the ball to a running back or Travis Kelce on a short pass. In the third quarter, however, Moore did throw a beautiful touchdown to Tyreek Hill on a play-action pass that resembled the leak concept on which Sammy Watkins scored in Week 1.
The Chiefs continued to utilize quite the rotation at running back position, but McCoy still appears to be the best (and most dangerous) of the bunch. His vision and shiftiness are on another level — and it fits perfectly with the Chiefs slower-developing zone runs and RPOs. But Damien and Darrel Williams are both quality running backs who get more third-down work for their pass protection — and the threat they pose as receivers.
The wide receiver group was mostly slowed by the early injury to Mahomes. But now in back-to-back weeks, Hill has struck on big touchdowns and looks to be every bit of the wide receiver we saw last year. Kelce and Demarcus Robinson were most often the beneficiaries of the quick passing game as they were able to overcome single man coverage. The threat of Tyreek Hill — even with one of the league’s best cornerbacks across from him — alleviated enough pressure on everyone else to be noticeable.
As a whole, the offensive line put together another quality outing — despite facing the elite pass rush of Von Miller. Like in any other game, Miller got Cameron Erving a few times. But the quick passing game really slowed down the pass rush, and overall, the Chiefs offensive line held their own. Martinas Rankin looked like a serviceable offensive guard before leaving the game with an injury. Stefen Wisniewski took over for Rankin and might not give the spot back.
The biggest takeaway from the offensive line might be the rather sporadic play of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He continued to have splash plays that generate a lot of movement and open up running lanes — followed by plays where he seemed to forget he has feet. The Chiefs certainly expected more growth from him when they locked him into a long-term contract, and doubtless hope he returns to that trend as he gets used to his new partner at center.
Outside of an improved run defense, the very first drive looked eerily similar to every other game this year. The Chiefs were very stout against the run but surrendered multiple chunk passing plays as the Broncos marched right down the field — helped by two penalties the Chiefs committed on third downs — to score the first touchdown of the game.
But then the defense started clicking like it never has this year — led by the $100 million man: Frank Clark.
From the second drive on, Clark provided Chiefs fans with the experience they have been waiting to see all year. He continued his usual dominating play against the run, but then gave Garrett Bolles the working-over of a lifetime. Whether forcing holds, getting pressures or simply forcing Flacco to roll away from him off the snap, Clark’s imprint was all over this game.
He wasn’t alone along the defensive line, either. Alex Okafor had a big start to the game, while Khalen Saunders and Derrick Nnadi were able to generate a steady push up the middle.
The linebacker play looked much improved against the Broncos. Part of that appeared to be due to Anthony Hitchens; the group seemed to have more cohesion with their usual captain back on the field. While Hitchens hasn’t been a world-beater this season, he does play extremely hard and brings the power on contact.
We also saw Reggie Ragland inserted in the base starting group for Darron Lee. Damien Wilson slid over to WILL while Ragland played SAM. That seemed to help bolster the run defense and pass rush. The linebacker group as a whole was phenomenal when utilized as rushers; Steve Spagnuolo called up a lot of blitzes early in the game with looping linebackers. They were closing fast on ball carriers all over the field — and were helped out greatly by Saunders and Nnadi holding their gaps (and blockers) better than in past weeks.
The secondary wasn’t tested much — Flacco simply didn’t have time to throw the ball — but Morris Claiborne continued to increase his snap count. The Chiefs still utilized a full rotation of outside corners with Claiborne, Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward. Ward appeared to get the green light to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage, which helped him play more physically and stay attached to wide receiverss. Rashad Fenton got a good number of snaps as the nickel cornerback in place of the injured Kendall Fuller. He showed some solid tackling — and made a nice break-up on a fourth-and-6 slant. Early in the game, Tyrann Mathieu played a good bit of slot corner — which pushed Daniel Sorensen into the strong safety role — but like the corners, the safeties simply weren’t challenged often. Mathieu was active early on, rolling into the box to help against the run.
De’Anthony Thomas remained a thing — even though Hardman took the first punt return and looked dangerous. Thomas immediately followed up by muffing his first return before recovering it. Armani Watts made a heads-up play when the Broncos attempted a fake punt, tackling Colby Wadman for a 7-yard loss.